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At times grating, Rodriguez also great

The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez tosses his bat after hitting a game-tying two-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez tosses his bat after hitting a game-tying two-run homer off Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth inning. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 18, 2010

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NEW YORK — Red Sox fans won’t want to read this, but here goes.

Great players do great things. And Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest.

Sox fans will resist every inkling in their bodies to admit that. They’ll bring up steroids, and incidents such as the ones with Jason Varitek and Dallas Braden. They’ll never give him his due, but the fact is he stepped to the plate with his team trailing, 9-7, in the bottom of the ninth inning last night and slammed a two-run homer on the first pitch from Jonathan Papelbon to tie the score.

It was his 588th career homer, and it allowed Marcus Thames to have his 15 minutes of fame with a two-run shot of his own to win the game, 11-9, that sent the Yankees into a home plate celebration and the Red Sox into hiding.

When you look back at Sox-Yankees 2010, this one will be mentioned. It’s too early to say whether it will sack the Sox for good, but on a night when they had turned the Yankees’ Cinderella starter, Phil Hughes, into a pumpkin, on a night when they had dug out of a 6-1 hole the ineffective Daisuke Matsuzaka had put them in, and on a night when they hit five homers and still lost, one could understand that this was more oil in the Yankee engine. It was the latest in empty feelings for the Sox, who dropped under .500 at 19-20.

“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it,’’ Rodriguez said. He said of past successes against Papelbon, “Sometimes that stuff is overrated.’’ But last night, nothing was overrated. This was a big-time performance on a big stage.

A-Rod’s manager, Joe Girardi, gave him the ultimate compliment when he said, “He’s a weapon. Every time he steps up to the plate, everyone is in scoring position.’’

Rodriguez is hitting .405 with four doubles, three home runs, and 28 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

What dramatics.

We’ve said it before: The Red Sox do not have such a superstar who can do what A-Rod can do on a regular basis. Not even close.

What a difference it makes to know you have a big-time player capable of winning a game with one swing of the bat.

After A-Rod had tied it and Robinson Cano flied out, Papelbon hit Francisco Cervelli in the arm with a pitch. Cervelli seemed upset, but after the game he acknowledged, “It wasn’t on purpose. He tried to come inside and he missed his location. That’s all. I wasn’t mad.’’

The Yankees have been playing shorthanded, with nagging injuries all over their roster.

Thames was in there because Jorge Posada had a foot injury and Nick Swisher also was hurt. Girardi admitted if everyone was OK, Thames wouldn’t have been in right. He certainly wouldn’t have been up to face the righthanded Papelbon if Posada had been available to pinch hit.

“Marcus has done a great job for us all year,’’ A-Rod said. “That was special. We’re so happy for him.’’

Thames got the usual whacks on the head as he crossed the plate. While being interviewed by the YES Network he got his first-ever celebratory shaving-cream pie in the face.

“It’s an awesome feeling,’’ said Thames, the former Tiger. “I haven’t hit the ball that hard this year. To do it against those guys over there is quite a feeling. I just got up there and said, ‘Get a fastball and don’t miss it.’ I knew I hit that one.’’

Good times.

The Yankees had felt miserable after Mariano Rivera allowed a grand slam to Jason Kubel in a 6-3 loss to the Twins the day before at Yankee Stadium. For a while it appeared Chan Ho Park was going to be the goat, allowing a pair of homers to Kevin Youkilis (two-run shot) and Victor Martinez (solo shot) that gave the Sox a 9-7 lead in the eighth. Girardi said he had to go with Park, who was just off the disabled list, for two innings because neither Joba Chamberlain nor Dave Robertson was available.

The Yankee pitching was actually horrible on this night.

Hughes, who entered with a 5-0 record and a 1.38 ERA, left with a 6-5 lead after five innings. His ERA soared to 2.25 after he allowed five runs on six hits, including two homers. His relief was equally bad, as Boone Logan, Park, and Damaso Marte were all shaky. It took Javier Vazquez, the Yankees’ fifth starter whose turn was skipped, to come in for one-third of an inning, striking out Youkilis with two on and two out to get out of the ninth.

Vazquez got the win and will be able to make his scheduled start Friday vs. the Mets.

Rodriguez said the Yankees always want to feel they’re in control at their own ballpark, but for most of this game they weren’t. They allowed the Red Sox to bop five homers and have their run of the place at times.

“It’s good to know we’re never out of it here,’’ A-Rod said. “We can come in here late in a game and know that it’s not over. That’s the feeling we had here last year and that’s the feeling we want to create this year as we move on. We did it tonight after a devastating loss yesterday. This one felt good. It restores our confidence that this is our ballpark and we’re up last.’’

There was too much going on for the Yankees to stop and think of the damaging effects of this game on their rival. They know the Sox had the game in the palm of their hands and let it slip away, and that can’t feel good. But they also saw Boston’s onslaught with the bats, and know they can’t celebrate too long and too hard.

“It’s one game and we know how good they are,’’ Rodriguez said. “We got stung by Minnesota and we came back. That team is capable of doing the same.

“It was just a good win for us. Just a good win.’’

Because great players do great things.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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